The Lady Divine becomes enraged after her boyfriend cheats on her, and descends into a life of murder and deviousness.
John Waters’ movies (“Pink Flamingos”, “Desperate Living”) are definitely not for everyone, but I’ve seen enough of John Waters’ films to know he is for me. There are plenty of people who will hate this film, and I wouldn’t blame them. This movie is crass, ridiculous, disgusting, horribly shot, purposefully offensive, and outrageously acted, but it’s also absolutely hysterical and it has a message that it succeeds in getting across. I would say that while “Multiple Maniacs” contains the scene that has most offended me in any of John Waters’ film, it also has one of the strongest messages.
Before I really get started with my review, I want to say that though I’ve given this film four stars it is not a film I would recommend to many people. The content in this film is pretty rough. There are dozens of rape jokes, including several rapes on screen (almost all of which are played for laughs); there are countless derogatory terms flung about; probably about a fourth of the scenes in the film contain at least some kind of nudity; and there’s also a scene that compares Jesus being crucified and paving the way to salvation to finding joy in a sinful lifestyle. So, yeah, there’s a lot of rough content in this movie, and I just want you, the reader, to know that my review is neither a recommendation nor a warning off from this film. I personally enjoy this film (its sitting on my movie shelf), but I understand where the sheer amount of objectionable content could completely overshadow its voice and message.
“Lady Divine’s cavalcade of perversions, the sleaziest show on earth! Not actors, not paid imposters, but real actual filth!”
A traveling actress named Lady Divine (Divine, “Female Trouble”) and her boyfriend David (David Lochary, “Mondo Trasho”) make their living by luring respectable citizens into their sideshow tents and robbing them. But after Divine starts to take too much liking to violence, David becomes worried and finds solace in the arms of Bonnie (Mary Vivian Pearce, “Polyester”). After Divine finds out, she becomes infuriated and finds love in the arms of Mink (Mink Stole, “Serial Mom”). As the star-crossed lovers navigate Baltimore they find themselves drawn to a devious lifestyle.
I mentioned above that this particular John Waters film has a pretty strong message (although it’s not one I completely agree with). This film is a satire on ultra-conservatism; it’s making fun of the people that look at people that are different than them and see the downfall of society; those ultra-conservatives see only hopeless cases doomed to loveless lives of violence, crime and sin. This film came out in 1970, and it makes multiple references to the Manson Murders, which occurred only one year prior. There was a general fear of the counter culture by the more conservative members of society in the 1960s and 70s (when is there not? But in the 60s and 70s that fear was incredibly prevalent). I think Waters’ general message is trying to say that not everyone whom is labeled as one of the lower class people of society is a hopeless murderer who finds joy in violence, but that’s how ultra-conservatives lump all those people together into one group.
The overall point that Waters is trying to make is good, but I also think that the way in which he’s making is message is so crass, so farfetched, and at times so disgusting, that really you have to be able to understand that all of this is meant as satire. The people in this film are overtly disgusting people, but again, this is purposeful. It’s as if we are seeing the lower class people of the earth as pictured in the minds of these ultra-conservative, higher class people; they imagine that everyone in the lower class finds ennui in sin and depravity, when, in reality, most of these lower class people are just people trying to get along in their daily lives. John Waters just wants us to realize at how ridiculous some of these points of view are.
While it’s definitely John Waters show, meaning that his writing and bizarre ideas are the reason to watch the film in the first place, the acting is something else entirely. I wouldn’t say anyone in any of John Waters’ films can really act in the traditional sense, but they certainly know how to captivate an audience. Divine is simply divine; she’s hilarious and revolting at the same time, and the more I see of her the funnier I think she is. I’ve come to love some of Waters’ other regulars like Mink Stole and Edith Massey; again, their acting isn’t great, but it’s totally unique and unforgettable.
The technical aspects of this movie are terrible, but that’s also part of its charm. From the opening credits of the film you can tell how low quality the overall production will be; the opening credits are just printed on a long sheet of paper and rolled past the screen; it stops and starts, rolls unevenly, and there’s even two names are that taped to the rest of the credit list. Once we get into the actual film, it’s incredibly apparent that this movie was shot in someone’s backyard in suburbia. Most of the shots are poorly framed (sometimes people are only half in the shot) and only about half of the shots are completely in focus. Still, Waters has a voice that is hard to ignore.
I’ve talked about how this film is pretty disgusting overall and I’ve mentioned that from a technical aspect this film is an atrocity, but at the same time, this is a film that is (and I’m not being hyperbolic) unlike anything else I have ever seen in my entire life. For us real cinephiles, finding something wholly original with this strong of a voice is a miracle. This might be my favorite of Waters’ films that I’ve seen, but I still have more to see.
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